11.28.11

Senate Confirms Second Circuit Nominee

WASHINGTON (Monday, Nov. 28, 2011) – The U.S. Senate Monday night unanimously confirmed the long-pending nomination of Christopher Droney to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.  The nomination secured unanimous support from the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 21, and has been pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar since then – more than four months.  Droney will fill a judicial emergency on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

 

I have been urging a vote on this consensus nominee for weeks; his nomination has been stalled and has been repeatedly skipped for no good reason,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).  “Despite the long-standing judicial emergency, Senate Republicans have refused until now to consent to take up Judge Droney’s nomination, delaying the Senate from considering it for more than four months.”

More than 20 judicial nominations are pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar, including more than a half a dozen nominees which have been pending for more than two months, and another nine nominees which have been pending for more than six weeks.  The Senate has confirmed just 59 nominations this Congress, and a total of 119 of President Obama’s judicial nominees.  By comparison, the Senate confirmed 167 of President Bush’s judicial nominees by this point in the Bush administration.

 

The full text of Leahy’s statement for the record on the confirmation of Christopher Droney follows.

 

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On Judicial Nominations
November 28, 2011

Today, I am especially pleased that the Senate will have the opportunity to vote on the nomination of Judge Christopher Droney of Connecticut to fill a longstanding vacancy on the Second Circuit, which handles appeals from Federal courts in Vermont, Connecticut and New York.  Senator Blumenthal deserves special praise for his efforts to move this nomination through the Committee process.  Both Senator Blumenthal and Senator Lieberman support this nomination. 

I thank the Majority Leader for securing a vote on this nomination.  I have been urging a vote on this consensus nominee for weeks; his nomination has been stalled and has been repeatedly skipped over for no good reason.  Despite the long-standing judicial emergency, Senate Republicans have refused until now to consent to take up Judge Droney’s nomination, delaying the Senate from considering it for more than four months. 

Judge Droney will fill a judicial emergency vacancy on the Second Circuit, a vacancy that has existed for well over two years.  The Republican members of the Judiciary Committee opposed President Obama’s first nominee to fill this vacancy and effectively ended the nomination of Judge Bob Chatigny when they voted against him on a party-line basis last year and insisted that his nomination be returned to the President without Senate confirmation.  I regret that because I know Judge Chatigny to be an outstanding Federal district court judge and am sure he would have been an outstanding circuit judge, as well.  That opposition was not only unfair to Judge Chatigny, but it served to perpetuate this vacancy for an additional year. 

Judge Droney’s nomination was considered at a hearing of the Judiciary Committee in June and then reported unanimously by the Committee to the Senate in July.  It has been needlessly stalled since then, despite the fact that all Republican, as well as all Democratic, members of the Committee support this nomination.  Now that the Republican leadership is finally allowing consideration of this nomination after a needless, additional four-month delay, I am certain the Senate will act to confirm Judge Droney.

Judge Droney is an experienced jurist with nearly 15 years of experience as a Federal judge in the District of Connecticut, a court to which he was confirmed by the Senate in 1997.  He has handled thousands of cases, and has frequently sat by designation on the circuit court to which he is nominated.  Prior to joining the Federal bench, Judge Droney was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, where he helped the office achieve over 150 gang-related convictions and received national recognition for his efforts to support community crime-prevention programs.  He spent 14 years as a litigator in private practice, and was mayor of West Hartford, Connecticut.  Judge Droney received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, unanimously “well qualified.”  As I have already noted, he is supported by both his home state Senators.

While we will vote tonight on Judge Droney’s nomination, I am disappointed that the Senate Republican leadership would not agree to a vote on the other 22 judicial nominees waiting for final Senate action. All of the judicial nominees on the Senate calendar are qualified and have the support of their home state Senators.  They include other judicial emergency vacancies.  One of those and one on which I have been urging immediate action would be filled by a vote on the nomination of  Morgan Christen of Alaska.  She is nominated to fill one of the many vacancies on the Ninth Circuit.  Her nomination, too, was reported unanimously and has the support of her home state Senators-- one a Republican, the other a Democrat.  The almost two months that action on her nomination has been delayed is inexcusable and damaging.

We continue to hear from chief judges about the overburdened courts in their districts and circuits.  Most recently, we heard from Chief Judge Audrey Collins of the Central District of California and Chief Judge Anne Conway of the Middle District of Florida.  In a recent letter to Senate leaders, Bill Robinson, the president of the American Bar Association, warned of the detrimental effect of excessive vacancies and high caseloads.  Justice Scalia, Justice Kennedy, Chief Justice Roberts, the Attorney General and the White House counsel have also warned of the serious problems created by persistent judicial vacancies.  This is an issue affecting millions of hardworking Americans who are denied justice when their cases are delayed by overburdened courts. 

Despite the  high number of vacancies that has persisted throughout President Obama’s term, some Republican Senators have tried to excuse their delay in taking up nominations by suggesting that the Senate is doing better than we did during the first three years of President Bush’s administration.  That is simply not true.  It is wrong to suggest that the Senate has achieved better results than we did in 2001 through 2003. 

As I have pointed out, in the 17 months I chaired the Judiciary Committee in 2001 and 2002, the Senate confirmed 100 of President Bush’s Federal circuit and district court nominees.  By contrast, after the first two years of President Obama’s administration, the Senate was allowed to proceed to confirm only 60 of his Federal circuit and district court nominees.  This lack of progress led to the longest period of historically high vacancies in the last 35 years.  

The 58 circuit and district court nominations we have confirmed thus far this year is still behind the 68 we confirmed in the third year of President George W. Bush’s first term.  What makes the claim of progress even more misleading is that of the nominations  confirmed this year, 17 could have and should have been confirmed when they were reported by the Judiciary Committee last year.  Instead, it took us until June of this year to consider and finally confirm those nominees.  Even including these nominees on this year’s total, the Senate’s progress this year barely cracks the top 10 years for confirmed nominees in the last 35 years.

The truth is that the actions of the Senate Republican leadership in stalling judicial nominations during President Obama’s first two years led to confirmation of fewer judges, leading to high vacancy numbers across the country.  The Republican leadership allowed the Senate to confirm only 47 circuit and district court nominations last year and set the modern record for fewest nominations confirmed with only 13 the year before—a total of 60 nominees confirmed in President Obama’s first two years in office—leading to judicial vacancies that stood at 97 at the start of this year.  In stark contrast, at the start of President Bush’s third year, 2003, judicial vacancies stood at only 60 because the Senate had confirmed 72 of his circuit and district court nominations the year before, and 28 in his first year in office, a total of 100 in the 17 months prior to 2003 with a Democratic majority. 

The 100 circuit and district court nominations we confirmed in President Bush’s first two years leading to a vacancy total of 60 at the beginning of his third year is almost a complete reverse of the 60 the Senate was allowed to confirm in President Obama’s first two years, leading to nearly 100 vacancies at the start of 2011.  Yet, even following those years of real progress, in 2003 we proceeded to confirm more judicial nominations than there were vacancies at the start of that year, and reduced vacancies even further. 

By the end of President Bush’s first term, the Senate had confirmed 205 district and circuit nominees.  So far, the Senate has confirmed only 118 of President Obama’s district and circuit nominees.  To make real progress this year, the Senate needs to consider the other 22 judicial nominations pending on the Senate calendar and the four additional judicial nominees who can be reported by the Judiciary Committee in December after participating in our hearings in November.  Senate action on those 26 nominees before adjournment would go a long way to help resolve the longstanding judicial vacancies that are delaying justice for so many Americans in our Federal courts across the country. 

With less than four weeks left before Senate adjourns for the year, we need to consider at least seven judges every week in order to begin to catch up and erase the backlog that has developed from the delays in the consideration of consensus nominees caused by the Senate Republican leadership. 

We should not end another year with the Senate Republican leadership refusing to give final consideration to qualified judicial nominees and insisting that those nominations being returned to the President to begin the process all over again. Such delaying tactics are a disservice to the American people.  The Senate should fulfill its constitutional duty and ensure the ability of our Federal courts to provide justice to Americans around the country. 

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